President Biden signs an executive order imposing new sanctions on Belarus.
President Joe Biden (Photo by Hannah Foslien)

President Joe Biden signed an executive order today imposing further sanctions on the Lukashenko regime in Belarus. The sanctions come one year after the country held an election widely considered to be fraudulent, with election fraud perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime to keep the president in power.

The President, Alexander Lukashenko, continues to assert a year later that the elections were not fraudulent. His re-election spawned months of mass protests and dissent, which the Belarusian government brutally cracked down on. 

The Biden administration put the new sanctions on Belarus in place to put pressure on Lukashenko and his authoritarian leadership. Lukashenko has been nicknamed “Europe’s Last Dictator” for his unrelenting rule. 

The executive order stated the consequences are for the regime’s “ongoing assault against the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Belarusian people, transnational repression and abuse, affronts to international norms, and corruption.”

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for 26 years, and previous sanctions have done little to persuade a change in his rule. The UK recently imposed sanctions, to which Lukashenko retorted “choke on them”. 

The new US sanctions will target the country’s potash, tobacco, construction, energy and transportation exports. The executive order named Belaruskali OAO, one of Belarus’ largest state-owned enterprises an illicit source of money for the regime. The sanctions will also impact prominent businesspeople who support  the regime and the companies they’re affiliated with.

The sanctions also focus on the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, which has been accused of money laundering.  The committee came under fire during the Tokyo Olympics when a Belarusian sprinter said she feared for her safety after criticizing Belarusian coaches. The sprinter later received asylum in Poland.

Biden’s statement noted the diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight in May, when the pilots received a message from Belarusian air traffic controllers stating there was a bomb on board. The plane diverted to Belarus, where opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were promptly arrested.

Belarusian agents were accused of faking the bomb threat. Biden called for a legitimate international investigation to look further into the incident. The president also called on the government to release political prisoners and stop targeting political activists. 

Biden recently met with Belarusian opposition leader Svytlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the nation after the post-election crackdown a year ago. According to CNN the opposition leader gave the president a list of targets she’d like to see sanctioned. 

Since the plane diversion, Biden has pledged to pursue options to hold those responsible accountable. He said today’s action abides by that pledge, and vows to hold the regime accountable for their abuse of power.

“The United States will continue to stand up for human rights and free expression, while holding the Lukashenka accountable, in concert with our allies and partners,” said Biden.